is probably below the radar screen of most investors, and if Manuel Asensio is right, it's probably a good thing. Crystallex is a Vancouver gold mining company (uh-oh) that claims to hold title to several mineral-rich gold concessions in Venezuela.
Asensio says it doesn't (he calls it "son of
''), and therein lies today's Tale from the Crypt:
Asensio & Co.
, a small New York investment bank/brokerage/research firm. It's best known for publishing reports on what it claims are fraudulent companies. Among its best-known early "sell'' recommendations were
, both of which are classic stock blow-ups. The difference between Asensio and most other short-sellers is that he publishes his blunt research on the Internet at www.asensio.com. Over the past month, he has been relentless on Crystallex, which he first heard touted by a money manager being interviewed on
Asensio says that at first Crystallex sounded like a stock he might want to own. However, the more research he did, the more he doubted the Crystallex story -- especially its claims about holding title to the Venezuelan gold properties, near Las Cristinas. Asensio insists Crystallex has no claim to any of the Las Cristinas property. "Crystallex lacks any factual basis or legal standing to state it is presently pursuing such a claim,'' he wrote in one recent report. "Information to the contrary is necessarily false and misleading. We believe that Crystallex has purposely disseminated such false and misleading information in order to defraud investors.''
Crystallex shot back with several press releases denouncing Asensio and said it had hired attorneys to sue Asensio. At the time, CEO Marc Oppenheimer said, "Asensio is creating and exploiting a market disruption that benefits short-sellers, of which he is one.'' Crystallex also said it planned to "pursue the matter" with securities regulators in the U.S. and Canada.
Flashback to Solv-Ex: It also said it planned to turn Asensio over to the
. At the time, according to Asensio, Solv-Ex was represented by the law firm of
Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton
; irony of ironies, it's the same firm representing Crystallex. Cleary Gottlieb officials couldn't be reached.
Interestingly, Solv-Ex also issued a press release denouncing Asensio. It quoted Solv-Ex Senior Vice President Herb Campbell as saying that court-ordered documents produced by Asensio in court failed to support his claims. "Either he is a total sham or has acted in willful contempt of a court order,'' Campbell said.
That was in May 1997, when the stock was at 13 (down from a high of around 32). Two months later trading in Solv-Ex's stock was halted for 65 days. On Sept. 17, it was delisted from the
Crystallex, which traded as high as around 8 less than a month ago, tumbled 1 3/8, or 29%, yesterday to close at 3 1/4 after a representative of the Venezuelan government said Crystallex's claims were false. Or so said newswire reports. Crystallex said those reports were false. Asensio says that's simply another false statement by Crystallex, whose stock, he says, should trade for much less than $1. "It's management is unfit to run a public company."
Crystallex officials couldn't be reached. Their phone (a toll-free number) kept ringing busy.
notes: One bright spot in Nike's earnings yesterday, as pointed out by
Suzanne Kapner (click
here for her story), was that Air Jordan sneakers and Brand Jordan apparel were among the company's strongest sellers. Yet there's loads of speculation that
and Nike are like a husband and wife who live under the same roof but share separate bedrooms, don't talk and are headed for swooshville. Nike and Jordan's reps say the chatter is nonsense. Perhaps, but then why were Nike CEO Phil Knight and other Nike execs and reps holding night after night of meetings in Chicago a few weeks ago at
restaurant, when Michael's joint is just a few blocks away?
Not long ago, say informed observers, such a choice at Nike would have been considered heresy.
Meanwhile, reader Au Smith writes: "I was surprised to hear that HMT wouldn't talk to you. I called them and they did talk to me. They said that the last time you interviewed them, you misquoted them and that they would not let that happen again.''
Sorry, poor excuse. If I misquoted them, they should have brought the error to my attention, and it would have been corrected. In fact, if you check out my archives at www.sfgate.com, you'll see that at one point I gave
CEO Ron Schauer an entire column to tell his side of the story -- to clear up what he thought were misstatements.
The old "I was misquoted'' line is no excuse. Just listen to Jean Macaulay, who identifies herself as a retired marketing manager. After yesterday's item on
less-than-open-door policy, she wrote: "It never ceases to amaze me how common this is, particularly with consumer-brand-type companies. They have gargantuan ad budgets devoted to marketing their products and spend millions reinforcing their corporate image, yet they'll ignore the free opportunity to communicate with their audience when a press interview is made available.
"Having spent many years at the other end of those press calls I can tell you that reporters often have bad information or are misinterpreting the nuances of some event, and I'm a firm believer that communicating the facts to the media is one of the most important things a marketing exec can do. Does that mean the reporter will get it right and print a favorable story? No. But one thing you can depend on: if his deadline passes with no callback from your company, you've just lost any opportunity to lessen a blow because negativity breeds in a vacuum. To put it more bluntly, you've also lost the right to complain about 'bad press.'"
Took the words right out of my mouth.
Herb Greenberg writes daily for TheStreet.com. In keeping with the editorial policy of TSC, he does not own or short individual stocks. He also does not invest in hedge funds or any other private investment partnership. He welcomes your feedback at
firstname.lastname@example.org. Herb Greenberg also writes the monthly "Against the Grain" column for Fortune.